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ABA Resolutions on Pro Bono and Public Interest

Pro Bono


Adopts the revised ABA Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid, dated August 2021.


Urges Congress to enact legislation to amend the U.S. Bankruptcy code to permit student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy without needing to prove undue hardship..


Urges law firms, corporate and nonprofit legal departments, lawyers, law schools, and state local, territorial, tribal and specialty bar associations to prioritize environmental justice and ensure communities of color, indigenous communities, low-income communities, and other vulnerable populations are included in decision-making and implementation processes as stakeholders.


Encourages lawyers in all practice areas to use and promote technology-based platforms that facilitate the efficient, timely, and targeted matching of survivors of human trafficking who have legal needs with lawyers who have the requisite specialization and availability to meet those needs pro bono.


Urges state, territorial, tribal courts and law schools to explore the feasibility of implementing a “Pro Bono Scholars”-style program in their respective jurisdictions to allow law students, in the final semester of their third year of law school, to obtain a full-time, externship placement providing supervised pro bono services and to allow these scholars to take the February Bar examination (if offered) during their final semester of law school.


Recommends that the Circuit Court of Appeals establish or expand pro bono programs to provide pro bono representation to pro se appellants to help efficiently resolve immigration cases.


Amends the black letter of Rule 5.5 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Unauthorized Practice of Law; Multijurisdictional Practice of Law) and the Model Rule for Registration of In-House Counsel to facilitate and encourage pro bono participation.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association encourages all law schools to create veterans law clinics to ensure that all veterans who cannot afford legal services can access them.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That where a particular law school lacks the necessary resources to create a stand-alone veterans law clinic, the school is urged to meet those legal needs of qualifying veterans through an existing legal clinic.


Amends §31.7 of the Bylaws to create a Standing Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association House of Delegates concurs in the action of the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in making amendments dated August 2014 to the ABA Standards for Approval of Law School.


This Resolution enables the ABA to facilitate and urge the appropriate governing bodies of American states and territories to enact rules permitting non-locally-licensed in-house counsel already authorized to engage in the practice of law to engage in pro bono legal services in their communities. It offers that such engagement in pro bono legal services be under the supervision of others who are locally-licensed to foster teamwork and to provide guidance and advice regarding local custom and law, although the intent of this Resolution is not to propose a specific Model Rule or a specific approach to developing a Model Rule. Rather, the intent is to encourage jurisdictions to consider expanding pro bono legal services within their borders.

2013 AM 109

Adopts the black letter Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means, dated August 2013, to supplant the Standards adopted August 1996, and recommends appropriate implementation of these Standards by entities providing civil pro bono legal services to persons of limited means.


Adopts the ABA Civil Immigration Detention Standards, dated August 2012, which govern the treatment of persons in the U.S. immigration detention system.


The resolution, sponsored by the Commission on Immigration, addresses the issue of expanding and assuring the quality of representation for indigent noncitizens in immigration proceedings. It seeks to ensure the legitimacy and competence of service providers, while deterring fraud committed on this vulnerable population through the establishment of a private right of action and enhanced criminal penalties against those perpetrating immigration practitioner fraud. In addition, it would ameliorate the harm caused by fraud by allowing for withdrawal of improperly filed forms, pursuit of U visas for injured fraud victims, and allowing those people who have left the country due to incompetent advice to pursue immigration relief.


This resolution provides that the American Bar Association supports legislation and/or administrative standards to ensure due process and access to appropriate legal assistance for persons arrested or detained in connection with immigration enforcement actions, including large-scale worksite enforcement actions. Additionally, that Congress should provide adequate resources for the protection and assistance for victims of unsafe workplaces. Finally, encourages bar associations to raise awareness of the rights available to individuals taken into custody during workplace enforcement actions in their communities and to assist in the provision of pro bono legal services to individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney.


The Resolution urges corporate counsel to cause positional conflict waivers to be granted in areas related to mortgage foreclosure, bankruptcy and consumer finance, to reduce the number of pro bono matters declined by outside counsel due to conflicts, so long as such waivers are appropriate and consistent with applicable rules of professional conduct.


The Resolution urges federal, state and local governments to address the unmet legal needs of low-income residents of communities affected by major disasters by authorizing, appropriating and providing additional funding for notfor-profit legal services providers, bar associations and pro bono programs which address the unmet legal needs of low-income residents of communities affected by major disasters.


This Resolution urges law firms and other legal employers to allow time spent by lawyers as official poll workers (not poll watchers) to qualify as pro bono, community service, or voluntary public service hours; and for nonlawyer staff to be allowed paid leave to serve as official poll workers.


This Resolution revises the ABA mission and goals, which includes the promotion of pro bono and public service by the legal profession.


The Resolution urges Congress to pass the Veterans Advocacy Act of 2007, a bill that would create a grant program for organizations providing pro bono legal representation to service members and veterans to ensure that they receive the health care and benefits to which they are entitled.


This Resolution supports the issuance of federal regulations that codify the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) National Detention Standards, and supports improvement, periodic review, and increased oversight of detention standards implementation in order to ensure that detained noncitizens and their families are treated humanely and have meaningful access to counsel and to the legal process. The recommendation supports enforcing the detention standards at all facilities where noncitizens are detained for immigration purposes. Further, the recommendation urges that the least restrictive detention setting be used for individuals and families in immigration detention, and that immigration detainees not be housed with criminal inmates. The recommendation supports specific improvements to the detention standards based on reports that the Commission on Immigration receives from detained noncitizens, attorneys and advocates, and the ABA’s pro bono projects: the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) in Harlingen, Texas, and Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice (VAIJ) in Seattle, Washington. Recommended improvements include: permitting independent observers to visit detention facilities; requiring legal reference materials in hard copy and assistance with legal research; permitting contact visits from family and friends; providing reasonable and equitable access to telephones; permitting indigent detainees to have prompt access to free stamps, envelopes, legal telephone calls and emergency calls; providing a continuum of prompt, effective medical and dental care, which shall address all detainee health needs, at no cost to detainees; apprising detainees of grievance procedures and providing for filing of grievances with ICE officers directly, without first going through a facility’s grievance process; and prohibiting involuntary transfer of immigration detainees to remote facilities if such transfer would impede an existing attorney-client relationship, or impede case preparation. The recommendation also provides for two important means of ensuring appropriate implementation of the detention standards: a DHS oversight office to review all detention facility inspection reports produced by ICE and report to the public; and in-depth training for all individuals who come into regular contact with immigration detainees.


This Resolution concurs in the decision of the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to add Interpretation 302-10, concerning providing opportunities for law student participation in pro bono activities, to the Standards for Approval of Law Schools and its Interpretations.


This Resolution adopts twelve principles to govern the planning, preparation and training for responses to a major disaster to ensure that the legal system maintains fidelity to the rule of law.


The Resolution encourages lawyers, law firms, legal services agencies, law schools and bar associations to develop medical-legal partnerships with hospitals, community-based health care providers, and social service organizations to help identify and resolve diverse legal issues that affect patients’ health and well-being.


The Resolution adopts the Model Court Rule on Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster, dated February 2007, and amends Comment [14] to Rule 5.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.


The Resolution reaffirms the ABA's commitment to the core values of the profession including the independence of the legal profession, expresses support for those lawyers and law firms that provide pro bono services, urges state, local, specialty and territorial bar associations to educate the public on the vital role the lawyers who provide services to unpopular clients or causes perform for the benefit of the American system of justice and condemns attacks on the independence of the legal profession.


The resolution adopts the revised Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid. This will be the ABA’s fifth edition of such standards. In 1961, the American Bar Association first adopted Standards for Providers of Civil Legal Services to the Poor. Those Standards have been periodically revised to address changes in society, legal ethics and legal practice and new versions were adopted by the House of Delegates as ABA policy in 1966, 1970 and 1986. During the past 20 years there have been further changes in the social and legal environment, and revision of the Standards is again necessary. The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants engaged in a thorough and lengthy process of redrafting with the assistance of a task force of experts, hearings and solicitation of public comment on draft revisions. After incorporation of changes as appropriate to accommodate comments by members of the legal aid community and other interested persons, the revised Standards are presented for consideration by the House of Delegates. The resolution also recommends the appropriate implementation of the Standards by entities providing civil legal aid to the poor.


The resolution adopts the Principles of a State System for the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid, which describe a state or territorial system for the delivery of civil legal aid that provides a full-range of high quality, coordinated and uniformly-available civil law-related services to the state’s or territory’s low-income and vulnerable populations in sufficient quantity to meet their civil legal needs.


This Resolution offers encouragement and support for state licensure rules that facilitate volunteering by retired and otherwise inactive lawyers, while leaving the substance and implementation of such rules to the discretion of the licensing entity. Recommendation recognizes the value in efforts by retired and otherwise inactive lawyers who seek to volunteer by providing legal services to low income persons. In so doing, it furthers the Association’s long tradition of commitment to justice and public service.


The report and recommendation encourages law firms to: (1) consider alternatives to mandatory minimum billing requirements that permit law firms the necessary management flexibility yet measure more accurately each individual’s contributions to achieving the firm’s goals; and (2) develop compensation systems that reward lawyers for pro bono, public interest and bar association activities, the training and mentoring of lawyers, continuing legal education, writing and teaching, and other activities that enhance professional development, standing in the community, and the legal profession as a whole.


The recommendation urges solo and small firm attorneys, larger law firms, corporate law departments and government and military law offices to encourage their lawyers, partners as well as associates, to service their communities through pro bono and public service activities consistent with applicable state rules of professional conduct. 121A also encourages bar associations and legal services programs to develop and provide support and assistance to lawyers and to law offices with their pro bono efforts. It specifically urges larger law firms, larger corporate law departments and government and military law offices to adopt effective strategies to provide their lawyers with opportunities to do pro bono work and to adopt specific internal policies and procedures to support such work.


The recommendation urges law schools to (1) require legal employers that recruit on campus to make information available to students and alumni specific information regarding employer’s pro bono policies and practices; (2) to adopt Pro Bono Disclosure Requirements For Law School Recruiters and, (3) to make available to faculty, students, alumni and prospective students the policies and practices of the law school in relation to encouraging pro bono work by the law school community.


The recommendation urges all federal, state, local and territorial courts to develop programs, in collaboration with state, local and territorial bar associations and pro bono programs and legal services offices, to encourage, facilitate and recognize pro bono representation of indigent parties in civil cases. It also urges courts to provide opportunities for their lawyer employees to participate in pro bono and public service activities consistent with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations and the applicable rules of professional conduct.


The Resolution reaffirms the ABA's encouragement of law schools, state and local and territorial bar associations and foundations, IOLTA programs, public service employers and federal, state and territorial law makers to establish programs, such as loan repayment assistance or forgiveness programs and public service scholarships, to enable law graduates to accept and remain in lower-paying government and public service legal employment.


This Resolution adopts the black letter “Model Expanded Legal Assistance Program Rule for Military Personnel”, dated February 2003 and urges states and territories to adopt the model rule in order to provide low-income military service members and their dependents free civil legal assistance and in-court representation by military attorneys.


This Resolution adopts the proposed Model Rules on Pro Hac Vice Admission, dated August 2002.


This Resolution supports the implementation of housing and community economic development initiatives and programs that would revitalize low- and moderate-income communities and historically underserved populations as a means of alleviating poverty and contributing to a sense of economic self sufficiency and community.


This Resolution encourages state, local, and territorial bar associations and affiliated young lawyer organizations to establish and implement Senior Outreach Projects that provide free legal services to homebound senior citizens.


This Resolution calls on all government entities to recognize that it is in the government's interest for its lawyers to participate in professional development and justice improvement activities sponsored by bar associations and urges those entities to take steps to facilitate such government lawyer participation in bar associations.


This Resolution encourages state and local bar organizations and affiliated state and local bar young lawyer organizations to establish and implement Greater Access and Assistance Projects to provide persons of modest means with legal assistance at a reduced, reasonable rate.


This Resolution calls upon the American Bar Association to adopt 'Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means,' and to recommend appropriate implementation of the Standards by entities providing civil pro bono legal services to persons of limited means. These Standards have been developed to furnish guidance to newly established pro bono programs and provide a basis for improving and evaluating existing programs. They cover a wide range of topics in the areas of program governance, program effectiveness, relations with clients and volunteers, and facilitating effective delivery of service. 


This Resolution urges the ABA, other national bar associations, state bar associations and local bar associations to make the expansion of pro bono legal services by practicing lawyers a critical priority for the bar and to develop effective and innovative strategies for promoting pro bono activities. Bars associations are urged to work in cooperating with existing pro bono and legal services programs in developing their strategies and to devote sufficient resources to ensure that such strategies can be properly implemented. In addition, the resolution suggests several activities that bars should consider in developing their pro bono strategies.


The Resolution asks the House of Delegates to urge state admissions authorities to revise, where necessary, admissions rules to enable active duty military lawyers to be admitted on motion to provide pro bono publico legal services.


This Resolution provides that, under the leadership of the ABA, develop and evaluate a model program for a law school curriculum which will combine skills training with pro bono/ public service at a law school which volunteers to participate in developing this model.


This Resolution revises Model Rule of Professional Responsibility 6.1 (Pro Bono Publico Service) and supporting comment to: (1) clarify the voluntary nature of the Rule; (2) add an hourly annual standard of pro bono service, consistent with a prior Association policy statement; and (3) emphasize pro bono service to persons of limited means due to the severe crisis that exists in the delivery of legal services to the poor.


This Resolution adopts the "Standards for the Monitoring and Evaluation of Providers of Legal Services for the Poor," and encourage their utilization, where appropriate.


This Resolution supports the obligation of all attorneys to devote at least 50 hours to pro bono and other public service activities that serve those in need or improve the law, the legal system, or the legal profession, urges all law firms and corporate employers to count at least 50 hours of time spent on such acitivites towards a lawyer's billable hour requirements or work product, and urges law schools to require law firms recruiting on campus to provide a written statement of their policy, if any, supporting the involvment of their attorneys in such activities.


The American Bar Association authorizes the dissemination to the profession of the following "Lawyers' Pledge of Professionalism."


This Resolution proposes that the American Bar Association encourages law schools, state and local bar associations, and federal and state lawmakers to establish Loan Assistance Repayment, Loan Forgiveness, and Income-Sharing Programs for law school graduates accepting low-paying, legal, public interest employment.

Public Interest


Urges the highest court or bar admission authority of each jurisdiction to adopt rules that would allow attorneys in their jurisdiction to earn continuing education credit for service as a poll or election worker.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments to provide legal counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low income persons in all proceedings that may result in a loss of physical liberty, regardless of whether the proceedings are: a) criminal or civil; or b) initiated or prosecuted by a government entity;

 FURTHER RESOLVED, That no court should accept an in-court waiver of the right to appointed counsel in a case that may result in a loss of physical liberty unless the person has had the opportunity to confer with a lawyer; and

FURTHER RESOLVED, That a person who has waived appointed counsel should be offered appointed counsel at each subsequent stage of the proceedings at which the person appears without counsel.


Urges governments to enact laws allowing for the expungement of convictions or other statutory or ordinance violations where a court enters a finding of guilt for actions performed in public spaces a…


Urges governments to enact laws allowing individuals to petition to expunge all criminal justice records pertaining to charges or arrests that did not result in a conviction.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association adopts the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services, dated February, 2016.

ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services

A.      Protection of the public

B.      Advancement of the administration of justice and the rule of law

C.      Meaningful access to justice and information about the law, legal issues, and the civil and criminal justice systems

D.      Transparency regarding the nature and scope of legal services to be provided, the credentials of those who provide them, and the availability of regulatory protections

E.       Delivery of affordable and accessible legal services

F.       Efficient, competent, and ethical delivery of legal services

G.      Protection of privileged and confidential information

H.      Independence of professional judgment

I.         Accessible civil remedies for negligence and breach of other duties owed, disciplinary sanctions for misconduct, and advancement of appropriate preventive or wellness programs

J.        Diversity and inclusion among legal services providers and freedom from discrimination for those receiving legal services and in the justice system

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that each state’s highest court, and those of each territory and tribe, be guided by the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services when they assess the court’s existing regulatory framework and any other regulations they may choose to develop concerning non-traditional legal service providers.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That nothing contained in this Resolution abrogates in any manner existing ABA policy prohibiting non lawyer ownership of law firms or the core values adopted by the House of Delegates.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges state, local, territorial and tribal jurisdictions to adopt court rules or legislation authorizing the award of class action residual funds to non-profit organizations that improve access to civil justice for persons living in poverty.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That before class action residual funds are awarded to charitable, non-profit or other organizations, all reasonable efforts should be made to fully compensate members of the class, or a determination should be made that such payments are not feasible.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges lawyers and all interested parties to  encourage the informed and voluntary use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes as an effective, efficient and appropriate means to resolve health care disputes.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association opposes the use of binding forms of alternative dispute resolution involving patients in medical malpractice disputes, disputes with private managed health care organizations, or involving residents in disputes with long-term care facilities or similar health care institutions, unless the parties agree to do so voluntarily and knowingly after a dispute arises.


RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges federal, state, territorial and tribal governments, courts, and agencies to establish laws, rules, regulations, and policies to implement the following principles:

(1)               Counsel should be appointed for unaccompanied children at government expense at all stages of the immigration process including initial interviews before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Offices and at all proceedings necessary to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, asylum and other remedies;

(2)               Immigration courts should not conduct any hearings, including final hearings, involving the taking of pleadings or presentation of evidence before an unaccompanied child has had a meaningful opportunity to consult with counsel about  the child’s specific legal options;

(3)               State court judges and staff should receive training to learn to effectively and timely hear and adjudicate petitions or motions on behalf of immigrant children, including for the purpose of making the predicate findings that are required for a child to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status; and

(4)               Due to firm deadlines in federal immigration laws which limit certain immigration remedies by age, state, territorial and tribal courts with jurisdiction should consider implementing specialized calendars to timely hear and adjudicate petitions on behalf of immigrant children to determine predicate matters that are required for the children to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, including creating expedited processes


RESOLVED That the American Bar Association opposes the proposal, made in the administration’s FY 2015 budget (or similar legislative proposals), that would limit forgiveness of student loans, after ten years of public service, to $57,500 (or such other cap that unreasonably limits the utility of the program), and that would require borrowers who are in public service and who have remaining balances exceeding that amount to repay them for fifteen more years, or until the debt was retired.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges Congress and the Administration to support and continue public service student loan repayment and forgiveness programs, such as the current federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, that enable law school graduates to embark upon less remunerative public service careers without having to make payments on their student loans for most of their working lives.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges Congress and the Administration not to create, in student loan repayment programs, greater burdens for married couples than for similarly-situated couples who are cohabitating.


This resolution fills a gap in existing ABA policy by urging all lawyers to contribute to the public good through community service in addition to their professional responsibility to deliver pro bono service in accordance with Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6.1, urges legal providers and employers to adopt policies and practices that afford lawyers the time and opportunity to engage in community service, and urges law schools and state, local and territorial bar associations to take all appropriate steps to facilitate and encourage lawyers to undertake such service


The American Bar Association reaffirms its support for adequate levels of compensation for state judges in order to attract and retain the best-qualified persons to serve on the judiciary; encourages state, local and territorial bar associations to take a leadership rolein promoting adequate compensation for state judges; and, encourages states and territories to establish independent commissions that have the authority to determine judicial compensation levels.


The Resolution adopts the Standards for the Operation of a Telephone Hotline Providing Legal Advice and Information. The standards have been drafted by the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services to provide operational direction to those who provide legal services in whole or in part through the telephone hotline structure.